When my children were born, one of my wishes for them was to live a diabetes-free life. While I knew that I couldn’t control them getting Type 1 diabetes, I did — and do — feel empowered to take steps that could prevent them from developing Type 2 diabetes. Because Type 2 runs in my husband’s family, I knew that my children were vulnerable genetically and that it was important for me to raise them eating healthful foods and avoiding becoming overweight or obese.
Don’t get me wrong — my children are children and enjoy their treats! But with my plan for healthful eating, I figure they eat about 90% healthful food and 10% junk (popsicles at the swimming pool, cake at birthday parties, etc.).
One of the important ways that I have gotten my kids interested in healthful food is by cooking with them from when they were toddlers. Cooking together has gotten them interested in where our food comes from and what goes into it. Cooking simple recipes with good ingredients has also been a way for us to avoid processed foods, full of hidden ingredients like corn syrup that can add empty calories to what we’re consuming.
This fall, my new cookbook, The Kitchen Classroom, will be released by Woodbine House publishers. It contains 32 recipes designed for getting parents and children into the kitchen together. I developed many of the techniques that I use in the book in working with my son, George, 7, who has autism. For George, cooking has not only been a path to good health but also to acquiring important developmental skills.
I know how busy life is when you are a parent, and I know how easy it is to buy prepackaged foods or take-out. The Kitchen Classroom is full of very simple recipes that will not take hours of your time — and they will give you an opportunity to reconnect with your children after everyone has had a busy day. Here are some simple ideas that can get you started cooking with your kids right now:
- Make “ABC” veggies. We cut different colored peppers into thin strips and tomatoes into round curves. Using these pieces, spell out your child’s name in “veggie letters.” You can play with making other fun words and can change up the veggies, too — carrot sticks work well, and avocados make good round pieces.
- Make a fruit salad. Choose everyone’s favorite fruit and chop it up together. Children as young as two can work with a butter knife slicing a banana. My kids love to pull grapes off the stems and drop them into a bowl. Try all different kinds of combinations — this is a great way to introduce new fruits.
- Blend up fruit smoothies. These can make a fantastic breakfast or after-school snack. My kids get excited about pushing the blender buttons on their own! Use a nonfat yogurt as a base, squeeze in a little honey, and drop in pieces of fresh and frozen fruit. For a nondairy smoothie, I use equal parts almond milk and orange juice as a base.
These are just a few ideas to get you started! What kinds of things do you like to cook with your kids? How do you teach your kids about nutrition and well-being? I would love to hear about this very important part of being a parent from other parents.